Monday, September 09, 2019

What does it take to become a successful entrepreneur?

The most successful start-up I ever worked for was founded by a guy who was brought up in a village in the Indian Himalayas. He is now the richest Indian immigrant in the USA, with a fortune valued at $20 Billion.

Jay founded the Cyber Security Software company Zscaler (Full Disclosure: I have shares in it), for which I worked in Marketing in 2015 & 2016. He founded Zscaler in 2008 and it is now valued at $50 Billion on the NASDAQ. Zscaler had its IPO in 2018.

His house didn’t even have running water. His family was clearly not wealthy. Read about Zscaler, founded by Jay Chaudhry, here.

Jay Chaudry, CEO of Zscaler, grew up poor, in a Himalayan village.

The second most successful startup I worked for was also founded by Indian immigrants to the USA. You can read about Visual IQ here. Nielsen bought Visual IQ (I don't have shares) for two billion dollars the year after I left the company.

Most startup founders I’ve worked for, have a genius of varying degrees, and an aspect of their personality that psychologists would define as ‘Hypomania’.

Harvard medical school defines Hypomania as 'a mood state or energy level that is elevated above normal, but not so extreme as to cause impairment'. The incidence of hypomanic personality is much higher than the average in immigrants and entrepreneurs (and those living in the USA, a country made up of immigrants).

A lot of people buy into the myth that the average successful startup founder is young - probably a guy in their mid-twenties. In fact, the average age of a successful startup founder is actually forty-five years old.  And right now there are also more black women founding businesses than ever before.

I learned a great deal working for another founder in the US, again called Jay, who had been a child prodigy. He completed a triple major degree at Carnegie Mellon in Computer Sciences, Russian, and Mathematics at 16 years old. 

He went on to become the USA's youngest MBA at eighteen and youngest management consultant, at Bain & co, again at just 18 years old. 

Jay once told me that Carnegie Mellon had told him that at sixteen years of age, he was too young to pursue an MBA at their University. 

He then managed to get an offer for a scholarship to take a Ph.D. in Finance at Wharton. He threatened Carnegie Mellon that he would pursue his studies at The University of Pennsylvania if he was not accepted into their MBA program. 

That's how he got Carnegie Mellon's MBA program at such a young age. 

I became Jay's Head of Marketing and right-hand man. It was fun. And it was torture. Jay was 'always-on'. That was exhausting for an average 'regular joe' like me.

“Following your dreams is dangerous,” a 31-year-old woman who runs in social entrepreneurship circles in New York, and asked not to be named, told Quartz. “This whole bulk of the population is being seduced into thinking that they can just go out and pursue their dream anytime, but it’s not true.” 

The truth is that founding a company is typically not a purely rational act. A Founder has to have outsized confidence and vision in themselves to put his or her plan into place. 

This is not necessarily the act of a normal person. By that logic, not everyone can be an entrepreneur. The fact that I have worked for so many startups probably means I have at least a little of the entrepreneurs' mindset, myself. 

These are the characteristics I've seen in most of the entrepreneurs I've worked for. You might want to call it genetics, personality, or something else entirely:
  1. He (or She) is flooded with ideas.
  2. He is driven, restless, and unable to keep still.
  3. He channels his energy into the achievement of wildly grand ambitions.
  4. He often works on little sleep.
  5. He feels brilliant, unique, chosen, perhaps even destined to change the world.
  6. He becomes easily irritated by minor obstacles.
  7. He is a risk-taker.
Does this sound like an entrepreneur or founder that you know? 

Please check out a great blog I discovered called Feedspot, founded by Anuj Agarwal. I'm excited to say that Feedspot has chosen my blog to be on their list of top 200 tech blogs. I'm honored - thank you! Here's their list